Reconceiving Black Adolescent Childbearing

Reconceiving Black Adolescent Childbearing

Reconceiving Black Adolescent Childbearing

Reconceiving Black Adolescent Childbearing

Excerpt

I used condoms with every partner that I had except my baby's father. I don't know why I didn't use it with him. Well, to tell you the honest truth, I wanted to have his child, I did. That's the only reason I didn't use it.... And I always wanted to have a child. But it just happened.

—Edouine

Images of pregnant black teenagers and single black mothers are plentiful in the media and popular culture. These representations have fueled debates on the need for welfare reform and have focused public attention on adolescent pregnancy among black Americans. However, the pervasive focus on black adolescents tends to obscure the facts that the rates of black adolescent childbearing are at their lowest levels to date and that white adolescents are having babies in much greater numbers. Media portrayals of the phenomenon tap into middle-class beliefs about indiscriminate, promiscuous sexual activity as well as judgments of these young people's disregard for their futures and those of their babies. On the one hand, these representations feed into middle-class fears about welfare abuse: that many are "getting more than they should." On the other hand, these images simultaneously serve to confirm beliefs that these unwed adolescents, and their offspring, "get what they deserve" as they remain trapped within limited circumstances. The relationship between adolescent childbearing and poverty—as both an antecedent and a consequence—is often an explicit concern.

The unwed black welfare mother—typically envisioned as a teenager or as a woman who began her childbearing as a teen—has emerged as a powerful stereotype. The "face" of adolescent pregnancy is assumed to be black in discussions of what ought to be done about the problem and in the minds of most Americans. (This assumption, Luker points out, is . . .

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